THE PATHS OF THE DEAD
by Steven Brust
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Paths of the Dead forms the first novel in “The Viscount of Adrilankha” trilogy, which itself is part of Steven Brust’s Khaavren Romances, based on the works of Alexandre Dumas. For this series, which explores the history of Vlad Taltos’ world, Brust has adopted a style of writing similar to Dumas’, which makes it appear that he is being paid by the word, and therefore given to numerous asides and speculative passages which have nothing, apparently, to do with the novel, but still provide flavor to the book.
Moreso than any of his previous novels, The Paths of the Dead ties in the Khaavren Romances with the Vlad Taltos books, as it opens with the naming of Morrolan as an apprentice witch. Brust, however, quickly relegates Morrolan to the background as he focuses his attention of a variety of characters who aim to reestablish the Empire which was destroyed in Adron’s Disaster during Five Hundred Years After.
The plot of The Paths of the Dead is slow to get underway, with Brust taking his time to introduce and reintroduce numerous characters who will be playing a role, not onlt in this novel, but presumably in the future installments of “The Viscount of Adrilankha.” Unfortunately, they are all introduced so rapidly and briefly that even with the assistance of the “Cast of Characters” which open the book, it is not always easy to keep track of who’s who in the novel or their relationship with others. Furthermore, readers who do make a connection with a specific character will wonder what has happened when Brust neglects that character for scores of pages.
The Paths of the Dead is set at an interesting time in Dragaera’s history. Less than 300 years after Adron’s Disaster, many of the characters were alive at the time and remember living under the Empire. In a time with a disruption of communications and transportation brought about by the presumed destruction of the Orb, these individuals are attempting to rebuild their society without the tools or technologies which allowed it to be created in the first place.
The dialogue in The Paths of the Dead is needlessly florid and complex, in keeping with the previous two installments in the Khaavren Romances, yet in addition to providing a flavor for the time Brust is describing, it also puts additional layers between the reader and the book and the repetitions and redundancies of the dialogue are more tedious and anything else.
As indicated by the title, many of Brust’s various characters eventually find themselves on the Paths of the Dead, as previously explored by Vlad Taltos. The adventures they have, which result in the restoration of the Empire, have been referred to by Brust in the Vlad Taltos books, again providing a link between the two series. Furthermore, the adventures on the paths provide a connection for the different characters and storylines Brust has set in motion.
On the whole, The Paths of the Dead is a novel of form over function which does not always succeed as a narrative, although Brust manages to maintain his selected voice throughout the entire book. The fact that the voice is frequently distracting from Brust’s characters and their adventures. While parts of his narrative come to a conclusion in The Paths of the Dead, it is clear that Brust plans to continue the story and make more revelations in subsequent books, although whether those will be in The Lord of Castle Black or the final book in the trilogy is a matter for conjuecture. Similarly, the Jenoine are referenced in The Paths of the Dead, with the indication that they will play a role in the series, but Brust does not yet reveal their purpose.
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